Slackbiking

(This column was first published in the October 13, 1997 Buffalo News.)

    A few Appalachian Trail hikers have defined a new type of traveling.  They call it slackpacking and I'm all for it.

    Slackpacking is the antithesis of and a reaction to the kind of fast-paced, goal-directed, go-for-distance driving ahead that so characterizes many in the hiking community.  Slackpacking on the other hand is strolling along, paying attention to the world around you and stopping often -- to chat with those you meet along the way, to observe the wildlife, to admire the scenery and simply to enjoy the time and place.

    I'm for it not only because I appreciate that environment, but also because I have never been strong enough to maintain the pace called for by the speedsters.

    Now I add a definition of my own: slackbiking.  Its characteristics are exactly those of slackpacking except that the mode of travel is the bicycle.

    I tried out slackbiking a week ago along the Seaway Trail from the New York-Pennsylvania border at Ripley to the Southtowns at Lackawanna.  I took two full days to bike the 68 miles that many cyclers would have accomplished easily in one.

    It was a wonderful excursion.  This part of the trail generally follows Route 5, departing from that route to steer still closer to Lake Erie along Lake and Lakeshore Roads from just east of Cattaraugus Creek to Pinehurst.  (My only criticism of the trail is the lack of a bike lane along this section.)

    Doris and I had traveled part of this route a few weeks earlier on our return from Alabama.  That gave me a basis for comparison of the kinds of observations you can make driving at fifty miles per hour and biking at five.  Those differences were striking.

    Wildflowers that we could see as hardly more than a blur from the car now resolved themselves into individual species.  The beautiful deep violet New York and New England asters and their smaller white relatives, heath asters.  Pale yellow evening primroses that folded their soft petals as each day progressed.  Twisted chickory, ugly plants except for their lovely blue boutonnieres.  Yellow-orange goldenrod fronds and the white umbels of wild carrot or Queen Anne's lace.  I even found a few late pink soapworts, whose alternate name, bouncing Bet, I have never been able to fathom.

    Many homeowners' gardens also contained handsome fall flowers.  Best-of-show for me was the Meyers' near Ripley.

    It was still early for the height of fall colors -- they must be spectacular by the time you read this -- but a few trees were changing.  Sumacs varied all the way from green to orange to bright red.  Many ashes were yellow and a few maples displayed red leaves.  Those colors you can see from a car but you don't have the opportunity as I did to inspect the remarkably varied individual leaves.

    Some other things you'd miss from the car:  The dozen or so black and orange wooley bear caterpillars heading for their winter homes in leaf litter.  The round stone lighthouse hidden among the trees at Barcelona.  Blue and white berries of dogwoods, red rose hips, blue-black wild grapes, red hawthorne and elderberries.  A white cross west of Brockton dated August 16, 1995 marking an accident and "A Loss of 3 Great Kids."  A dozen goldfinches picking thistle seeds, a sapsucker joining a few kinglets and chickadees at the entrance to the Evangola State Park campgrounds, and a Carolina wren teakettling away along Big Sister Creek.  Schools and homes already decked out for Halloween.

    It was an enjoyable outing.  Now if I could just get someone to pull me up those hills.